Monday, April 29, 2013

Jason Collins sets the stage for Lindsey Graham (similar qualifiers apply).

Last Wednesday Collins invited two Sports Illustrated writers to his home. With both solemnity and humor (as well as a nervous pause to make sure his backyard pool wasn't overflowing), he began crafting today's account, a public declaration that he is gay. 
At some point the idea of having no openly gay athletes in a league might sound as unimaginable as a ball field segregated by race. But today Collins becomes the first active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport to come out of the closet. Yes, that's a lot of qualifiers. Yes, it may be an artificial construct. But it is a milestone. Tens of thousands of men have played in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. Until today none had expressed his homosexuality before retirement.
It took so long it's almost hard to believe it hasn't been done already, not by a guy in one of the Big Four -- MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL.

I had hoped an MLB player would be first, and I suspect it will now be very soon as Jason Collins shows it's really not that big a deal.

I mean, it's a big deal. It's a big f'ing deal. It's a big deal today and it's a big deal that it happened. As a society though, we've largely moved beyond this being an issue for any but the most retrograde among us. Sure, some of those folks are in positions of power, disproportionately so, and while the percentages are down, in raw numbers, there are a lot of bigots out there still. But, like other manifestations of cowardice and self-loathing -- misogyny, racism, fundamentalist religion, "Shall not be infringed" shouting, etc. -- homophobia is something for which the majority of people feel sorry and ashamed for those who cling to it. So when I say it's not that big a deal, I think I could more accurately say, "It won't be long before we all wonder what the big deal was and why it took so long."

Mr. Collins has taken a brave, undiminishable step and, I'm sure, has won millions of new fans in so doing. Here's hoping his teammates, his team's management and ownership, and the fans have his back, because he's bound to get some ugly mail.

The moment I can't wait to see: when some unabashed bigot brings a nasty sign to a game, or heckles him for being gay, and the fans around that guy give him the old Klingon discommendation. And maybe "accidentally" spill their beers on him.

Update: Cleaning up some typos, I realized I was assuming Mr. Collins will actually have a team next year. I looked at his stats and that might be a generous assumption. He may only be an active player in that he hasn't officially resigned yet.

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